Spinning Immigrant- Fringe Arts

 

Sarah Grimke works in performance of all types in the Philadelphia region. They’ve been on stage, backstage, and in the office for years now.

Becca is an Egyptian American actor and poet.

Sarah

What was in your pockets for this one?

 

Becca

Well, both of my parents are immigrants and I watched them go through many of these struggles. Also, my identity as a woc which became incredibly relevant while watching.

 

Sarah

I know some of the team on this piece, but not all of them. I had high hopes for such interesting subject matter, but I am fairly removed from the immigrant story personally.

There is so much to say in the regard to immigration and identity and moving and culture and language. I felt like we just scraped the surface. I came back to watch the end and I felt like the beginning could have been very condensed cause 45 minutes into an 80 minute piece, I really felt like we were getting somewhere… Too much exposition maybe?

Also, hey there surprise black face

I think it is also fair to point out that all of the collaborators on this piece are white immigrants or white Americans.

 

Becca

I feel her experience as a french immigrant prevents her from fully understanding the American context of that action. And if she does and it was intentional, it was ineffective and otherwise ultimately distracting from the point she was trying to make.

 

Sarah

And that I thought as a people we had agreed blackface was never necessary.

 

Becca

There are more effective ways to make the audience truly SEE color, while using your own skin and that beautiful black shadow on the white wall right besides her.

 

Sarah

She’s been here an awful long time to not know blackface is a problem, but fine. It still didn’t serve the story telling. I thought she did a great job physically wearing the grief of her African friends and that it was an unnecessary image.

Becca

The red lipstick is a clear minstrel show reference and that reference becomes ineffective because that man can not wash his skin off like she can.

 

Sarah

YES. It really took me out of the rest of the play, because all I could see was that moment and how insensitive it was. It shouted over the rest.

 

Becca

Agreed. I was front row and I think I audibly said “Noooo! What are you doing? That hurts me!”

 

Sarah

I was in the back and definitely said “oh no” out loud.

 

Becca

Philly has an obsession with Blackface these days and it goes to show how necessary it is for us to include poc in the making of these pieces.

 

Sarah

In general her physical performance was her strong point for sure. And I loved the idea of “mixing” and ” spinning ” immigrant stories like a DJ

 

Becca

Those recordings. I would have just listened to hours of those. My favorite part was in the beginning when she said something along the lines of “this next hour is going to be hard. Lots of accents and Grammer SUCKS”

 

Sarah.

Me, too. I loved the moments where she displayed how French she still was. I felt really comfortable in her presence because I felt like she was my friend. I loved the times she spoke French at the beginning, because suddenly we were the outsiders and the French speakers in the audience were a club we weren’t a part of.

 

Becca

Starting the show in French was also amazing because the French audience members were responding and I felt the most like an immigrant in that moment.

 

Sarah

I thought that was a great device. A taste of her everyday, you know. I did love how she talked about America in the media you consume overseas vs. America when you get here. At the beginning it felt very “yay America” and I wanted some more depth there.

 

Becca

Yes, I agreed the beginning could have been made more concise, but I loved the setup of the American Dream in that way, because before you come here it is all YAY America.

 

Sarah

I don’t know. I feel strange critiquing a show about the immigrant experience made by 2 immigrants,

 

Becca

Totally a valid feeling.

Sarah

Because maybe this is their accurate story, and I wanted more conflict artistically but that wouldn’t be truthful to them. I liked the idealism of America and how she connected it to TV shows we all know. It felt effective, and made me understand the attraction to move here. But I wanted something..more..regarding the reality vs. The expectation

 

Becca

Yeah, I faced a similar problem after I watched it. I craved a more finished ending. It felt like a cop out to stay here in this country. But that is their truth and the experience is so complex, there are many conflicting realities, which she also touched upon

 

Sarah

And having a child here conflicts it all more. She’d be picking up and changing the whole life of her family if she moved back, because they are American born and bred and the shock of moving would be just as intense.

 

Becca

Yes! Oh, I wish I could have felt that more.

 

Sarah

I felt like I had to infer that for myself.

 

Becca

But it is such an important point.

 

Sarah

Maybe they just needed a dramaturg? I felt like this was such an interesting approach to the topic and there is such rich ground here, but it just wasn’t done yet.

 

Becca

I think it could be amazing. It felt like an early draft. I think the son unit and the next unit didn’t quite connect.

 

Sarah

Yeah, I think because there are so many topics and ideas to discuss, it is easy to lightly touch all of them, but also easy to not get deep into any of them.

 

Becca

I really did enjoy it over all. Another example of how a lack of poc on the production team could clearly be felt.

 

Sarah

Yes, if you are going to represent POC in your story, you should include them in the process. Let’s talk about design. There was no credit for lighting design, but I liked seeing the daylight transition to night during the show. Fringearts has such a beautiful view from the theatre and you normally don’t see it.

 

Becca

Sound by Jorge Cousineau was also very impressive because she controlled most of it. Some of the interviews could have been a tad louder. Accents can be hard to understand to people who don’t hear them regularly.

Costumes were very cool, although the suit she put on for the minstrel show unit was actually kind of distracting because I kept wondering what she was going to do with it. I kind of loved that her butt stuck out of the costume because it was funny and a new level of vulnerable.

 

Sarah

Truth. Also, is she a vampire? She was killing that outfit.

 

Becca

I liked the props, too. The eating alone scene really struck me and it was partially because she cooked real eggs.

 

Sarah

That egg scene was amazing. I kept internally saying “Is that real? Is it? Oh my god it is.” I love being surprised by something in that way. In general, I felt like I wanted to hang out with her, which is pretty impressive as a performer. I do think she did the people she interviewed justice. Their testimonies were truly moving.

 

Becca

That was the best part.

 

Sarah

Yes. I just adored those interviews. Can Jorge Cousineau, the sound designer, please make those a podcast?

 

Becca

I would love that. The interviews were insanely personal and vulnerable and I don’t know if I would want to hear their secrets unless someone gave me permission to, and she did by introducing them to me as people.

 

Sarah

I did love the feeling that whenever she meets another immigrant, she befriends them and learns their story. They were truly people in her everyday life. Which reminds me that we are surrounded by immigrants and people affected by the immigrant experience all the time.

 

Sarah

Yes to all of that. I think everyone needs constant reminders that everyone around them is leading an intense life that is unique and hard, and this show did that wonderfully.

 

Becca

Yes agreed. Overall a very powerful piece with some faults. I hope it grows.

 

Sarah

Me too! I would love for them to get feedback and come back to it. I would see a new version for sure. I hate that 5 minutes of the show kind of destroy the rest of it for me.

 

Becca

I think that goes to show how careful a creator has to be with what they put out there, but also, that you really need to seek out diversity in the creation room, especially if the subject matter includes a group you don’t belong to.

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Something Resembling or What it Looks Like and Dream Sequence- 2 from SoLow

Goldie is a director in Philadelphia.

Maura is the Artistic Director of Orbiter 3

 

Maura

Should we start by emptying our pockets?

 

Jane

I worked with James Haro, who wrote Something Resembling when he was a student at Drexel.

I have also worked with Noah Levine, who wrote and performed Dream Sequence. And the director of Dream Sequence, Amelia williams is a friend of mine.

 

Maura

I am friends with James Haro and have dramaturged for him before. I’m also friends with Noah and Amelia.

Oh, and my roommate Emily Schuman served as Outside Eye on What It Looks Like.

 

Jane

So we saw these two shows as part of SoLow, do you want to look at them together or separately?

 

Maura

I feel like we should separate them.

 

Jane

Sure. Let’s talk about the design on Something Resembling. I was kind of transfixed by the walls, because the wallpaper wasn’t even in a very particular way that evokes a cheap motel. But I was distracted by how specific those walls were, versus how unspecific the items in the room were- a found bench and a found table.

 

Maura

I thought most of the design was effective, and totally within a scrappy SoLow aesthetic. The specificity of the walls were kind of integral, wasn’t it? Since we needed to be in the motel room with the performer.

 

Jane

Nothing within the walls created a specific environment, and I think that disparity was distracting. I think I would have prefered to have the room brought to life by small details.

 

Maura

I didn’t mind that very much. It didn’t distract me. I did mind the large amount of props, but I think that is a personal bias. Sometimes I find it difficult to click in with a performer and stay there when it feels a little like they are juggling a series of Interesting Props. I did kind of love the chicken though, I’m not entirely sure why it was the representative of the beloved thematically but I enjoyed its presence.

 

Jane

I thought it was made of tofu. Was it chicken?

 

Maura

No idea, it looked like a rotisserie chicken from a grocery store though and that cracked me up.

 

Jane

I also did not understand what it meant, but it did help me understand what level of absurdity to meet the piece at.

 

Maura

Agreed. I think it communicated early on that we were to be skeptical of the depth of feeling.

 

Jane

I did think the costumes were really effective, too.

 

Maura

Agreed! I liked the costumes a lot, especially Garcins whole vibe.

 

Jane

Garcin the barker?

 

Maura

Oh, we should probably add to my pockets that I haven’t read No Exit in maybe… 7 years

 

Jane

Yeah, I also did not do my homework on No Exit.

 

Maura

The barker?

 

Jane

The gambler? I understood there to be three characters: Jay, the lover, Stella the lovee who leaves and then Garcin a sort of intermediary.

 

Maura

Oh, no. I think it’s Jay Garcin? And then someone else who might be Ms. Cricket? Who is the intermediary and singer?

 

Jane

Hmmm. I am now somewhat confused.

 

Maura

Me, too.

 

Jane

I was taking the character with the hat as Garcin.

 

Maura

Oh, I thought that was the stranger? Ok, so I think we can establish that there were three distinct characters but that their names and relationships were somewhat unclear.

 

Jane

Yeah, I think Stella was clear. In fact, although I really enjoyed the character when she spoke. Still, I kind of liked it better when she only existed to haunt the person who loved her. It was fun to guess what kind of relationship it really was.

 

Maura

I liked the writing of Stella’s character the best in the piece. I agree that I preferred guessing as to the relationship, but at the same time I did think it was clever to have the object of affection be the most real and human character, because typically they are the opposite of that.

 

Jane

I think that’s a really good point. And I also liked that writing the best.  As for design, I don’t think Plays and Players offers much in terms of lights and I think that they were fine.

 

Maura

They were a little harsh, which I was down for. I sort of love the SoLow aesthetic of throw it all together. I don’t think we as a creative community have enough places to just TRY things, to mount our work for small audiences, and so I love the sense of permission that surrounds SoLow Fest.

 

Jane

I totally agree. I’m thrilled that So Low exists, and I don’t expect too much from design in these shows, but I think it’s good to think about how design affects an experience even when it’s understood to be shoestring.

 

Maura

But lights are one of the most cost-prohibitive design elements, so I expect almost nothing out of them for SoLow shows. I did kind of wish there was a hotel lamp, though. I don’t know if practicals were possible or fades from those main lights, but playing with the misery of hunkering down in an ever darkening space would have added something for me.

 

Jane

Good points, both.

 

Maura

Then again, part of the point of No Exit is that the characters stay in an unchanging space? So I don’t know.

 

Jane

What did you see as being the relationship between No Exit and this piece?

 

Maura

I think James  was definitely in dialogue with that play, in terms of setting — the room, the door — and very much talking about how we make our own personal hells quite handily in our brains.

 

Jane

I think that the relationship to No Exit made this quirky little relationship play too big, and that leaning towards the grandiose in that way is common in first plays for new writers.

 

Maura

I do actually think that it is important to remember that this is James’s first production of one of his plays.

 

Jane

And that that is what SoLow is for. I’m really glad an opportunity existed for him to try this.

 

Maura

I am too. And I liked that he invented some of the characters I remember from No Exit — the odious Garcin character in the Sartre became an emotionally needy person who was trying to create meaning through a relationship, which I think is what one of the women in the Sartre also did?

 

Jane

I think it is safe to say that both of us are a little shady on the Sartre.

 

Maura

So there are probably some things we missed. Which brings up a greater question of needing context to enjoy a piece of theatre, and I’ll say that I’m not a huge fan of that.

 

Jane

No, me neither. I find it alienating, which I don’t like for myself, but I especially don’t like for theatre’s larger relationship with its audiences.

 

Maura

But I think James set himself a challenge and did some good writing, and I hope he keeps going.

 

Jane

I agree. I think this is exactly what SoLow is supposed to do. Let people try stuff out and flex muscles.

 

Maura

I found Meryl Sands, the performer, pretty charming.

 

Jane

I think she was charming, too. I think, like James, she was learning and playing with stuff.

 

Maura

I think she could have been directed further, but given a short rehearsal time I think she was making good choices about the body language of the characters.

 

Jane

I think it would have been much better to bring in a director, rather than the playwright directing with a consultant. The material was clearly very personal. I think it’s important and difficult to learn to be able to hand something personal like that over to a trusted interpreter, and I think the show would have benefited a lot from that.

 

Maura

Yeah, I agree. And that’s not to cast any shade on James as a director, but more an observation on added perspectives sometimes making a piece more legible.

 

Jane

I totally agree.

 

Maura

I recently learned I should not be directing my own writing, though, so I may be informed by that too!

 

Jane

It’s a tough lesson for all of us who write and direct.  

 

Maura

James’s tacos were really great. So my experience was overall pretty positive. Albeit somewhat confused.

 

Jane

Same. I love that SoLow made this experiment possible. And I felt the same way about Dream Sequence.

I think that something that worked in Noah Levine and Amelia Williams’ favor was that they have a really good sense of scale. The story, the ideas and the production were the appropriate size for the venue.

 

Maura

Dream Sequence really moved me because I am also in a place where I feel I am losing track of my time and ambitions, and I just lost my grandmother, who was really important to me and shaped who I am as a person and artist in many ways. After she died, I definitely felt like I was privileging my arts career over the people that love me, and I think Noah explored that quite beautifully.

 

Jane

That’s another thing I really appreciated about Dream Sequence. I think it was about a topic that is really important and not commonly explored. I think it is uncommon for a younger artist to do that.

 

Maura

What do you do when you’re always “busy” but have nothing to show for it?

 

Jane

And mounting this show in his tiny bedroom supported that idea. He leveraged the space to trap us in there, too. I think Amelia Williams’ direction was really expert. It kept the piece moving and kept it in check.

 

Maura

I again thought there were a few too many loopy dream props. Like, I didn’t need the banana or the curtain rod, really.

 

Jane

I didn’t mind them.

 

Maura

I also was fine with the costume changes, but I think that the return to the bed was not the best move.

 

Jane

You mean when he was up in it? I loved that! I felt like a horrible time troll sitting under his bed stealing minutes. There is something about that loft bed. My friend called it the “divorce bed” because it’s the bed you buy when your life is not where you want it to be. It’s the failure bed. So maybe I was having a personal connection.

 

Maura

I get loving it — I liked the exploration of removing the performer visually — but it took me out of the piece a little. It felt too realistic for where we’d entered and what we’d already been playing with.

 

Jane

Well being trapped there with two other people and no social norms was awkward for sure.But I still liked it. I liked that I kept getting surprised in that tiny space, like when the sheet comes down and creates a curtain.

 

Maura

I loved that!! That was my favorite maneuver. So simple and communicative. Also Noah’s vocal changes and conversation behind the sheet as the continuation of UTACO were great and hilarious.

 

Jane

I agree. And I think Noah’s performance was really endearing, but I also would have loved to see that in the hands of another actor. Just like with Something Resembling a degree of removal would have added something.

 

Maura

I hear that, but I love Noah doing Noah. The piece was so personal and confessional that it would’ve struck me as less honest had another person been performing. I’m also less skeptical of performing one’s own writing, and I think adding Amelia Williams as director/dramaturg was pretty crucial and helped add some clarity.

 

Jane

I thought the production was delightful. And it wouldn’t have worked if it were any bigger. So again, props to SoLow

 

Maura

Yay SoLow, I wish I’d gotten to see more of you.

 

Jane

Yay, Time is on Our Side, SHREW, SoLow. I love what’s happening in our theater world right now and young artists are a huge part of that!

36 Views – The Lantern Theater Company

Erlina is a director, writer and performer

I came into Lantern Theatre’s production of 36 Views without too many previous conceptions about what the play was about. This is usually how I like to go in to see things. I used the first few minutes before the lights went down to read the dramaturgy, and I began to get a sense of the themes that this play might be ready to tackle. Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far before the show began. I wish I had had more time to educate myself on the subject matter, because I got a little lost during the show.

The moment where I found myself losing the story, or losing the connection between the characters was when long technical conversations were happening. I just didn’t understand. Still, I persevered and was able to put together this much: Darius Wheeler (Joe Guzman) is an art dealer of mixed reputation. He meets a woman, Setsuko Hearn (Joanna Liao) at a cocktail party who specializes in ancient Japanese ‘pillow books’ usually written by women. His undervalued and awkwardly adorable assistant John (David Pica) mistakenly brings a ‘translated’ work that is shrouded in mystery to Wheeler’s attention, and it quickly gains the interest of the other players.

Although I got a little bit confused by the production at times, the actual story is quite interesting. It took up until the end of the first act for me to get a handle on the plot, but by then I was intrigued to find out how the second act would go. However, I was a bit thrown off when it seemed like the big climax of the play (discovering whether or not the Pillow Book was faked, and by who) was completely skipped over. It was almost like I went to the bathroom and missed an important scene (I promise I didn’t.) Suddenly, everyone knew the truth and people’s reactions to it seemed as if it were happening in memory and not live. I felt Naomi Iizuka lost some traction and excitement there.

The performances were great. Bi Jean Ngo was captivating as Claire Tsong and offered some much needed comic relief, and Joe Guzman certainly toed the line between trustworthy and super creepy. However, when it comes to the relationships between the characters, I didn’t feel much chemistry. I didn’t believe the romance between Wheeler and Hearn for one second, and I felt the same about the blossoming romance between Claire and a nosy journalist played by Angela Smith. In general felt like the characters seemed disconnected from each other except for a few scenes between John and Claire which were lighthearted and sweet. Perhaps  more human connection is what I wanted from the play, but not necessarily what it was there to offer me.

I tremendously enjoyed the Kabuki in the show, how it appeared in Jorge Cousineau’s set and his music, as well as in  Peter DeLaurier’s placement of the players in black who moved around the set like accepted ghosts, and played wooden blocks to punctuate certain scenes.

Ultimately I would recommend this show. The Japanese artistry was beautiful, and the questions of what makes something real or false were unique. I will probably be thinking about this production in the days to come.

 

SHREW- Reject Theater Project

Tracker is a man who is naturally biased against the experiential knowledge of anyone who isn’t a cisgender man

Cara is a director in Philadelphia. She wrote this about the Lantern’s production of Taming of the Shrew last year.

 

Cara

What’s in your pockets, Tracker?

Tracker

I usually don’t like devised theatre because I have the general belief that such work is often intentionally or negligently obtuse. You?

Cara

I first heard about the show after a very upsetting talkback for the Lantern’s The Taming of the Shrew last year. I met the director, Christine Freije because she had my back in that talkback and mentioned she was working on it. Do you want to start with design?

Tracker

Sure. I wasn’t initially immediately struck by the overall design aesthetic. It looked like a devised piece’s set, with a lot of junk placed around somewhat with care but without necessarily clear intention. As the show played out I recognized more of how it fit, how the sparse and uninviting lighting served the sinister aspects of the Shakespeare text as it was directed to highlight. Most striking to me was during Petruchio’s “kill a wife with kindness” speech, where the actor was lit only by harsh fluorescent and halogen work light. No false sentiment there.

Cara

As opposed to the Lantern’s Taming of the Shrew, where that speech was memorably lit very lovingly.

Tracker

Disturbingly lovingly.

Cara

I liked the big cardboard Padua. It pointed to the thousands of productions of Shakespeare and this play at every level of production over the centuries.

Tracker

The cardboard Padua was a good use of limited resources to also evoke All The Shakespeares in their general blandness.

Cara

Doing devised theater on a budget is a gig I know very well, and I think Michael Iacobucci did a fantastic job. He really hit the balance of owning the level or resources that they had and avoiding sloppiness. Nothing about the design pretended to be what it wasn’t. But the design also didn’t apologize for being what it was. That is a very, very difficult thing to do.  

Tracker

It looked like it was within its budget but without actually sacrificing the overall aesthetic goal.Sometimes it happens when a budget is very large but the aesthetic goal is lost. In some shows, the set looks like it was very wealthily put together but serves nothing.

Cara

I love the way Reject used the space, although some older patrons seemed uncomfortable with a lot of standing or with sitting on the floor. The costumes got the job done, they were not overly ambitious.

Tracker

The sound design did a good job of being a foundation for the action of the play.

Cara

I really enjoyed the use of live sounds, and I think the artists were particularly precise with them. Like you said before, this kind of devised work can be sloppy and the ideas can get muddy, but that wasn’t the case here.

Tracker

Yes, even the sound design spoke of a really tight ensemble. A place where, perhaps, every voice was heard. The scene where Petruchio brutally murders his horse is one area where I immediately think of great live foley buoying the onstage action. Whether down to director or designer, the ensemble-like aspect of the sound design was directed to a point.

Cara

There was a lot of discipline in the cast. And I really have to say that the direction on this piece was fantastic. Christine Freije is really young and she was directing her peers, which can add a level of difficulty. But the show is evidence of a director who is very good at making tough decisions and creating a really good collaborative environment. Every single element of this piece was on message.

Tracker

Absolutely. Christine Freije had such a clear grand vision and was absolutely able to communicate and direct that to seven performers and a designer—no mean feat even in straightforward, classic box-set plays.

Cara

I’m really, really impressed with her work. I don’t want to diminish her work or the work of the performers because of their age, because they are strong artists in their own right, but for actors at their age and level of experience to be able to use their bodies and voices so clearly, with such confidence and precision is worth pointing out.  

Tracker

I liked that the performers were also competent at Shakespeare. It would have diminished the whole effect of the show were they even slightly-less-good than they were.

Cara

One thing that did bother me a little was that the two black actresses were in the masculine roles. The “shrew” label hits black women even harder in other incarnations like ABW, so I would have liked to see the show acknowledge that their perceived strength doesn’t make them immune to this kind of dismissal.

Tracker

That’s a very good point to make. Also to that point, Leslie Nevon Holden as Petruchio was just fantastic.

Cara

She’s a powerhouse. A lesser actress would have stomped through that in a parody of masculinity, but it would have diminished the piece. What she gave us was so much more powerful and unseltting because she gave it so much depth.

Tracker

She portrayed a completely awful, completely self-assured-of-his-own-rights piece of shit asshole. She had so much control of both the world of the play in which Petruchio existed and of the stage and audience of SHREW. I found myself hating him and afterwards almost having trouble separating actor from character. Part of my distaste for Petruchio, though, reflects a particular distaste for myself, in that: how is it that I allow men like these to continue existing? It’s an entirely masculine reaction, that it somehow falls on myself to be responsible for the ills of other men.

Cara

So what was that like seeing a woman play that role?

Tracker

Maybe because of how well Leslie Nevon Holden performed it, or because of what I brought to the play— my interpretation that that character was an indictment of our passive culture in relation to abuse—I didn’t really think of the gender-based casting of the role. She was He. It did, perhaps, soften some of the more violent parts of the performance, because for a minute I could step back and know it was an actor performing combat, and not just me idly standing by watching a woman get badly hurt.

Cara

I also want to highlight Julia Ray, whose David Attenborough was hilarious because it was restrained. She doesn’t list anything but classical work in her bio, but she seemed to have some good clown chops.

And Zoe Richards was particularly terrifying as the feminine voice that shuts other women down. Her modulation of sunshine and control was really specific.

Tracker

Yes! Her company director character was so chilling. Superficially, Petruchio might be the outright villain, but Richards’s character is the most damaging and dangerous.

Cara

Something I respect in Hannah Van Sciver, as well, is that she’s very giving to other performers. She is really charismatic, and I feel like in an ensemble she corrects for that, and gives focus to others. For me, that adds another element of feminism to the production- these women shared the space and took care of each other

Tracker

It was more about knowing one’s space: it was about knowing the space.

Cara

I liked Emily Fernandez in the Kate role, I think she did a good job of balancing her internal and external struggles. And she was very deft with the classical text.

Tracker

Also agree. In the performance I saw, I was one of the audience members she appealed to, to see her and what was happening to her. It was a thoroughly unsettling and affecting experience. As a side note to the perniciousness of the culture that allows productions of Taming of the Shrew to exist, we definitely still refer to Katerina as Kate, even though that’s not her name at all. Cole Porter is at least partly to blame.

Cara

Damn you, Cole Porter!  For me the talkback sections and direct commentary were soothing in a way that I can’t really describe. It was such a balm on the loneliness and anger I had been carrying since the response to the Lantern’s The Taming of the Shrew.  SHREW used a lot of the word-for-word text from that talkback. Maybe that was an experience that was uniquely mine, but I treasure it. This is part of what I was feeling about Time is on Our Side. I really like that people are making work that is local and specific and speaks to and responds to our community. That’s something theater does best.

Tracker

I wasn’t present for that talkback, so that aspect of the effect didn’t hit me the same way. Even so, I could clearly hear the voice of The Well-Meaning Man Who Has to Explain To Little Ol’ You What He Really Means. Kelsey Hodgkiss’ actor character in the immediate talkback was pitch perfect without becoming parody. The most heartbreaking scene for me was the final dialogue between Bianca and Katerina. Kelsey’s Bianca—with the Shakespeare text and the deconstructed, critical text of Shrew—was so hard-hitting, and it could have gone wrong performatively if Kelsey didn’t know exactly what she was doing. I’m actually getting fairly upset now recalling that scene. And Minou Pourshariati also had such command of space and movement, too.

Cara

The movement was very strong. It was extremely specific. Christine Freije and her team were incredibly careful about making sure that every choice told a story.

Tracker

While at the same time not over-imbuing each finger twitch with *meaning.*

Cara

Right.

Tracker

The choreographed movement pieces highlighted the text and intention of the show and never felt out-of-place or too whimsical. The culmination of all of those being the final montage/tableau using  Katerina’s “Did I dream ‘til now” speech, which belongs to Christopher Sly in the original text.

Cara

I appreciated the timing and specificity of the deprivation of sleep scenes. It was very easy to empathize.

Tracker

And with the juxtaposition of using such a peppy song to underscore it.

Cara

They creepily highlighted the timelessness of the issues being discussed.

Tracker

How, even in a world where abuse happens, other happy things exist along with it. It’s deeply disturbing. The campy dumb-show of the B-plot also served that effect. while also allowing the audience a moment to breathe. That point in the show where they pantomime Bianca’s love story. It’s all fairly silly and whimsical and straightforward, and it ends with Bianca’s complete, blissful happiness. Then her abused sister shows up.

Cara

Oh man, that was totally cribbed from the Lantern in the most devilish, wonderful way. I think we can say overall that these women are what so many collaborative and devising groups try to be. They were mature enough, skilled enough and generous enough to get a message across clearly, and to challenge their audience without alienating it. I don’t want to underestimate how difficult that is to do. And I’m also impressed by how skillfully they used their anger. They never diminished the feelings that they had around the play, but they avoided the trap of limiting the response to a shallow satire, too.

Tracker

Yes. It would have been easy to do the latter. Christine Freije’s group took the harder path, and they forged a way through and with it. I really look forward to seeing what these women do in the future.

Cara

With this, and with Time is on Our Side right now I am feeling like we might be coming up on a new, more thoughtful, generous and grown-up Philly theater.

Tracker

Me, too. SHREW makes me feel very good about where Philly theatre can go, and also where it is right now.

 

Shame Symposium- Fringe Arts

Sarah Grimke works in performance of all types in the Philadelphia region. They’ve been on stage, backstage, and in the office for years now.

Goldie is a director in Philadelphia.

Jane is a multidisciplinary theatre artist living and working in Philadelphia.

Goldie

What was in your pockets for this one?

Sarah

I know Chelsea and Magda professionally and think they are a delight to work with. Additionally, I’d been following this project since it was just the photography version. I found it really thought provoking and was curious how they could make it performative

Goldie

My only pockets for this was that it was recommended by someone who I usually agree with about stuff, so I was expecting to like it.

Sarah

Great. Where do you want to start?

Goldie

Well, I loved the idea of this piece. And there are some moments I especially loved, for example I’m still thinking about Magda fighting with Jaime. Another woman told me that it was triggering for her because a man was using force against a woman, but because I didn’t worry for her safety it felt cathartic to me.

Sarah

I definitely found it jarring to watch that fight. Like I couldn’t relax tilI knew she was OK. But then she was OK and it was really nice to see her interacting safely in the way she wanted.

Sarah

I think my favorite part was the Angry Everyday song. I saw it at Get Pegged in March and had it stuck in my head for weeks.

Goldie

I was just going to say the same thing. I really liked the song, too

Sarah

I am angry every day, and I feel like people think that is incongruous to being pretty or cute or feminine, but in reality, the older I get the more I realize all the women I know are like the hulk. They are always angry. They are just better at controlling it and hiding it.

Goldie

And it’s been an especially angering couple of days, couple of weeks actually. So that was very affirming.

Sarah

I can’t stop thinking about the pie charts either. It made me think about what my 25/75 split is.

Goldie

Yeah, I liked most of what was part of the TED style presentation. However, I feel like after that, the show sort of loses it’s footing. I liked all the ideas and all the parts, but I wish they had been put together in a more clear and comprehensive way. I really feel like this show needs a director to give it shape and create a through line. It has the potential to be really cathartic, especially for women, but the structure doesn’t allow that catharsis right now.

Sarah

Yeah. I think I started looking at the time just after the shame solos, even though I enjoyed the science of it all, and looking at all the different bodies and such.

Jane

I think it’s important to point out that I never see shows about beautiful and sustaining female friendship

Goldie

I love that they did this great tribute to female friendship, but I didn’t understand the link between that and shame and anger.

Sarah

Yes, more female friendship, please.  But I also didn’t see the connection. Except that maybe only your true friends let you have shame and anger without judgment, or like the things about you you are ashamed of.

Goldie

I like the look at the childhood friendship, too, and the way you’d just collaborate and build stuff together shamelessly. I think there’s such a focus on mean girls and the way girls are mean to each other that we’ve forgotten about that kind of shameless collaborative play that little girls do.

Sarah

So true. I feel like one of the greatest sins of misogyny is that women are taught to not trust other women. As if we are always competing and undercutting each other.

Jane

Yeah, agreed. For me that friendship was the answer to debilitating shame in the show

Goldie

I think that’s where they were headed. I just would have liked to have seen that line drawn more clearly.

Sarah

And this show showed the power and potential of what could happen…but yeah the structure needed support.

Goldie

I think the show could really go to another level if we could understand better what the creators see as the connection.

Sarah

For sure. I think they needed a real director, just for an outside eye. Wait. Did they have one ?

Goldie

No, it was collaborative and that shows. It’s clear that there wasn’t someone looking at it comprehensively and from outside of the performances. The part with Jenn Kidwell, for example, while delightful, had no context and therefore didn’t make much sense. If it had been anyone but her, it could have been really uncomfortable. She’s really engaging.

Sarah

Yes, the show needed arc and pacing a bit, but honestly, it’s one of the most self-reflection-inducing things I have seen in a long time.

Goldie

Yeah, I think they were great on content. Do you want to talk about design?

Sarah

Yes. I liked that set! It let them have all these different feels.

Goldie

That was a very rare instance of projections working in a set. I usually hate projections. I like how it evoked conferences and TED talks.

Sarah

But was still fun and feminine. It didn’t feel cold.

Goldie

That’s a good point. I think the light helped with that.

Sarah

Yes although I barely noticed lights. Which is ideal. Andrew Thompson did a great job.

Goldie

It would have been easy for the lighting design to be showy instead of supportive, but they weren’t. Oh, and those costumes! I was in love with Magda’s outfit in the opening

Sarah

I think the costumes were made by Magda’s mom.

Goldie

I like the way that they seemed like aliens because of the academic deadpan they were speaking in and the otherworldly glamor of their clothes, which is a great solution to the fact that women are so rarely taken seriously when they are speaking authoritatively. The fact that they seemed to be not of this world took them out of the misogynist context of our world, like alien queens in a sci fi movies.

Sarah

Yes! And how the shame of being glittery and professional intersected. Was that just me?

Goldie

Yes, there was a real sense of owning it. I loved that they looked  like they were wearing exactly what they wanted to.

Sarah

I loved the touch of the microphone sound too. Plus that mic sound with a touch of reverb isn’t easy. That’s all engineered

Goldie

Did this show feel inclusive to you?

Sarah

I actually had some “is this white feminism” moments, but it kept surprising me.

Goldie

What made you feel like it might be?

Sarah

I think I am just hypersensitive lately. Plus I saw Time is on Our Side that week, so my bar was high.

Goldie

The shame portraits were fairly inclusive. They gave a sense that Chelsea and Magda saw shame as not just a problem of white women. It would have been great if what Jenn was doing was contextualized in terms of her own shame.

Sarah

It’s a universal topic.

Goldie

The person I went to the show with said that although Chelsea and Magda were talking about the balance of shame and pleasure, at this point in the development of the show it doesn’t feel like there is any real risk of them experiencing shame anymore. I thought that was a good point. It’s like they have worked through it, so it takes some of the stakes out.

Sarah

Which I think was the goal? To exercise that shame demon? Or like once you shout it out and you aren’t hiding it, there can’t be shame

Goldie

I’d like to be witnessing some of that though, rather than the aftermath. It would be more exciting and more inclusive. It can be alienating to see someone who has worked through something and welcoming to see someone who is still struggling. Especially since the shame solos were kind of sold as “OK, now I’m going to confront this, come with me.”

Sarah

True. Though I kept in mind they are dancers, not actors.

Goldie

They had a good presence, though. They were both interesting and charming at all times.

Sarah

Very true. I think playing something untrue to them in the moment is foreign though. So, they couldn’t show us a journey they had already been through? I really like that it was possible to get through the shame though. That had a lot of hope in it for me.

Goldie

Yeah. It was a very cool concept.  How was the audience reaction the night you were there?

Sarah

Lots of laughter. I felt like the dance community was a strong presence and that there were some inside jokes in there I wasn’t privy to, but I didn’t feel bad about it.

Goldie

The night I was there, I was really belly laughing at a lot of stuff and I was the only one. It felt weird. Like “vapid ham body.”

Sarah

That was hilarious!

Goldie

I think there is so much to be said about shame and dancers/actors and the female body. That’s another place where I would have loved to have seen a connection made between what we do with our bodies and the shame we feel. Especially because  as a director I recognize “vapid ham” and “extra turnt” tend to be actress responses to body shame on stage.

 

Sarah

That moment about Magda’s moms portrait where she hated the picture cause she felt ugly in it, not because she was a doormat. That was so rich

Goldie

We didn’t talk about sound. Any thoughts?

Sarah

Just on that I liked how collaborative it felt.

Goldie

Yes, the compositions from Mike Kiley?

Sarah

And I felt like they chose the sounds for their solos.

Goldie

Yeah, I think sound supported the show well.

Sarah

I just hope they keep working on it. I love those portraits and how they make them, I love the questions they are asking. I want to keep learning with them

 

Animal Farm to Table- Renegade Comany

Cara is a Director in West Philly

Steele is an actor, producer, marketer, and creator in Philadelphia

 

Cara

So, what was in your pockets?

Steele

I had heard that Renegade’s past shows weren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But I thought for sure the subject matter would bring me in.

Cara

I was in exactly the same place. Renegade did a show in my neighborhood, Cobbs Creek, this year

and they talked a lot about including the community, but my neighbors said that they actually ended up kind of invading the space and alienating the community. That bothered me, but I was still into the ideas in the description, so I was ready to give it a chance.

I also think it’s really important to say upfront that this is a workshop of a piece they’re going to put up in the Fringe. It wasn’t presented as a finished product, and they were actively seeking feedback. There was a feedback session after the performance I saw, but I didn’t stay for it.

Steele

Neither did I.

Cara

As it stands right now, I really don’t like the piece. Was there anything about it that you liked?

Steele

Yeah. Most of the actors were really committed to the world of the play.

Cara

I agree. What else?

Steele

That’s all I have for now.

Cara

OK, so let’s try to figure out why it didn’t work for us. I think what bothered me most about it was that it was a mean play. It had a lot of mockery and criticism but didn’t seem to care about anything, or have anything new or important to say. 

Steele

I agree. I wanted to at least feel like they were speaking on behalf of animals but I didn’t even get that. And all the decisions on tackling issues seemed way too easy. Making fun of vegans and allergies at a restaurant, for example.

Cara

Old jokes, old criticisms.

Steele

[Actress] Leslie [Berkowitz]’s character in the restaurant scene was just completely bulldozed.

Cara

And part of what makes me angry about that is that there is so much to be thoughtful about. But this was a very limited lense on the issues that come up among middle class people who have a very particular set of food options.

Steele

Absolutely. I feel like I was sold a show that I didn’t see. I question why body image was brought into it. I wonder where the commentary about Philly food consumption was.

Cara

Can we talk about the body image stuff for a minute? The show seemed to be making fun of people who have shame about their bodies and painted them as idiots who fall for fads. The worst thing was, they asked us to close our eyes and imagine ourselves at our ideal weight. That’s a fucked up thing to do to people. And it was for a joke at our expense.

Steele

It’s so highly offensive. It made fun of people. In the audience. In the world. It was a show about food that somehow made fun of people’s food choices. And what was the point? That’s what I want to know. I know what they say the point was supposed to be but that wasn’t there.

Cara

And also had a lot of derision for people who enjoyed organic or specialty food. What was the point supposed to be?

Steele

From the blog:

“Over the past year, Mike Durkin has been engaging Philadelphians in talks about their consumption habits, studying the ripple effect that both eating and buying certain foods can have on our lives. The conversational journey has taken him from subjects ranging from food deserts in North Philly, to food allergies, to America’s growing obesity issue.  Durkin will examine food culture via themes from the novel including food as work, food access, and food as class.” Doesn’t that sound great?

Cara

Yeah, that sounds really interesting.

Steele

I think that’s my biggest problem. I know this was a workshop and there is time before they do it in the Fringe, but they are presenting this in the Urban Creators farm. A farm that was created to close the food gaps in North Philly. I need them to address something, anything, relevant to that community in that space.

Cara

It’s pretty horrifying to imagine them presenting that piece as is to that audience. Those are people who both know what they are talking about, and care deeply about the issue.

Steele

Absolutely. It just makes a mockery of…everything.

Cara

But not with any specific message that I can discern.

Steele

Except the portion about Honest Lemonade. I’m assuming they were calling attention to how the company takes advantage of farmers?

Cara

I don’t know. That’s one of many things that confuses me. I understood the reference to Boxer, the workhorse in Animal Farm who labors without appreciation until he dies. Animal Farm is one of my favorite books because it (ironically I guess) humanizes what it is to want to redistribute wealth and power and the dangers inherent to enacting that desire. So I don’t understand at all what the relationship of that book to this play is outside of the word “farm” and the consistent sardonic use of “comrade” which was also confusing. Was it meant to be a criticism of Communism? Calling Honest Lemonade a….socialist company? I really don’t know.

Steele

I’m not sure either. If that’s what was actually being talked about, that was interesting. But I can’t say for sure. It was also tainted by the campy commentary while the audience was squeezing lemons. If they were attempting to say “look how much work you have to do to squeeze lemons to make 10 cents a bottle” the message got lost. That whole segment didn’t feel complete. Did you understand the part when the actor took his clothes off and smashed the Tastykake?

Cara

I think he was choosing between his clothes and the Tastykake? Maybe the clothes represented… I don’t know.

Steele

I’m not sure really.

Cara

He seemed to be weighing them?

Steele

Maybe.

Cara

How about the ritual in the beginning? Were they saying that we fetishize farmers?

Steele

Possibly. And then they all had plaid on so I thought they were a farmer cult… but then they turned out to animals also. I don’t know.

Cara

I also need to talk about the most disturbing part of this for me.

Steele

Yes, petting.

Cara

Yeah, that’s it. The part in which an actress came out into the audience flirting and asking people to pet her and admire the ribbon in her hair, then asking them for sugar. It made me very uncomfortable as an audience member, feminist and human, but especially because it seemed to be a light treatment of addicts.

Steele

It was awkward. And definitely, again, an easy way to address sugar addiction. Ok. She was a horse right? Was that supposed to be calling attention to horse abuse? Overworking them and rewarding them with sugar cubes? My brain was working so hard for meanings.

Cara

I brought that up to Mike Durkin, the director, and he pointed out that there is a character in Animal Farm, a horse called Mollie, that is obsessed with sugar and ribbons and love from the humans. In the book, she acts as a criticism of bourgeois people who were not comfortable with the new communist regime, and the sugar represents the scraps from the table that the middle class recieve from the rich.  But I’m having a hard time making the connection between the character of Mollie and sugar-addicted poor people who can’t afford fresh vegetables.

Steele

Ok, so then I can understand the reference when connecting to the book but yes why, why was it in the show?

Cara

I also didn’t understand the solo anecdodes. That seems like it would have been an opportunity to make a human connection.  But one of them was literally just a description, with no commentary, of a scene in a movie that isn’t even about food. And the others didn’t really reveal anything about the storyteller or the topic. 

Steele

Oh those felt completely out of place. Even when mentioning food it didn’t connect. If I fully understood what was happening in the primary world of the play, they might have done something to give insight into the characters but they just made me more lost.

Cara

So if you were to give advice to the creators of this before they go into the Fringe version, what would it be?

Steele

I would really like them to be clearer on whatever the points about food are they are trying to get across. Because they are presenting at the Philly Urban Creators farm I need them to address food deserts and the relation of food to class. They should be careful not to alienate portions of the audience without purpose.

Also food is universal. Food stories from a non middle-class perspective would be great.

Cara

What parts of the show right now do you think are likely to alienate people? Especially people at the farm?

Steele

Making [actress] Leslie [Berkowitz’s] character so weak and attacked in the restaurant scene can definitely alienate people. Even as a non-vegetarian it just felt like a cruel way to address food issues and preferences. The “aerobics” segments feel like they are mocking anyone with a food struggle which would definitely alienate.

Cara

Absolutely. My advice would be to engage a really good dramaturg. This show needs someone to help it figure out what it’s about, and help it say what it’s trying to say and avoid accidentally saying what it doesn’t mean.

Time is on Our Side-Simpatico

Sarah Grimke works in performance of all types in the Philadelphia region. They’ve been on stage, backstage, and in the office for years now.

Lawrence is a queer feminist playwright who only contains multitudes on Wednesdays.

Goldie is a dramaturg and director who loves socially conscious and feminist work.

Goldie

What show did you guys see? I saw a preview.

Lawrence

I did, too, but not the one you saw.

Sarah

I was there opening night.

Goldie

What was in your pockets?

Sarah

I know a number of people involved and have worked with some of them. I wanted to like this show going in.

Goldie

I was really nervous to see this, because I saw the reading and I really didn’t like it. And I want R. Eric Thomas to succeed because I’m a fan of his writing and storytelling. So I was expecting to be disappointed.

Lawrence

I also knew most of the cast and the playwright and a lot of the design team.  I was aware that I was probably going to like the show because there are lesbians and I’m biased.  It’s a problem that I’m dealing with.
I had also seen the earlier reading of the play so I knew the general plot and some ideas of what I thought were earlier strengths and weaknesses. I had liked the reading, but I thought it was too self indulgent even if the bones were good. What didn’t you like about the reading?

Goldie

I agree that it was self indulgent and didn’t have enough action- a lot of banter and musing and sort of stand up style presentation. In the reading, I also felt like Annie was not fleshed out. She seemed like a “best friend” character for Curtis, who also spoke with his rhythm and style. Both of those issues were mostly gone in this version of the script though. Shout out to dramaturg Sarah Totora and to R. Eric Thomas. This script really came a long way. It’s obvious that hard work went into that.

Lawrence

I talking with Kristen Norine (the actress playing Annie) before seeing it, she talked about how she felt the play was very Chekovian and I kept that in mind when seeing the show and found that shaped a lot of how I saw it. I thought it was a smart way of looking at the play

Goldie

I know Kristen, too and I am a huge fan of hers, as well as of Ryan Walter.

Lawrence

Yes, huge huge fan of Kristen.  I’m also super excited by Brandi Burgess’s work.

Goldie

I guess we’re starting with acting. Kristen Norine is so reliable. She is so specific.

Lawrence

I had never seen this side of her and I found it incredibly exciting. I felt like she was pulling from a depth that I knew she had, but I hadn’t seen really showcased yet, and I was thrilled.

Goldie

I agree. And that really drove the story. She was compelling, and reserved and deeply sympathetic.

Lawrence

She found a way to settle in a really passive objective and make that work. A lesser actor could have totally bombed with that.

Goldie

Did it bother you that a straight actress played Annie?

Lawrence

No. This was a story about history and how personal history is and how that gets complicated and muddy all the time.  It was queer history, but it could have easily been anything else.  The actors were smart, respectful  and devoted to that story and their own personal sexuality doesn’t really have anything to do with it

Goldie

What did you think about Carl Clemons-Hawkins?

Lawrence

This was the first time seeing Carl and Ryan Walter and I really liked them. Carl felt so settled in a really complicated character and made him so relatable.

Goldie

That’s a good point. The character is not very likable, but he really was. The fact that I continued to empathize, even though I thought the character was behaving terribly is a credit to his work.

Lawrence

And it made him feel really truthful. Also he was hecka funny.  Hats off to the comedic timing of the whole cast.

Goldie

Really funny people. Really serious comedy people. So you liked Brandi Burgess?

Lawrence

I’ve worked with her before and I’ve been consistently impressed by how much I care about her characters and the work she’s doing and how effortless it looks.  I don’t notice her working.

Goldie

I had never seen her before this show, and I’m equally impressed. I think she is really respectful of the characters, which can be hard when you’re doing a series of character parts like that. But she just disappeared into each one.

Lawrence

She absolutely did. Someone like Mr. Ramondi could have just been a joke, but she made something real there

Goldie

She did, and that was really a challenge. Somehow she never lost the person in that character. I was so impressed by the very slight accent of Gisela. It was such a delicate thing and so specific. I have always found Ryan Walter to be a really compelling, gifted actor, no different here.

Lawrence

I felt like he had more meat with the Lawrence and Mr. Blankenship characters and I really connected with them. His line “With him I am” really hit me.

Goldie

Yes, that’s true. I think the Blankenship was masterful. And I think Renee was written over the top and he met it without aping.

Lawrence

I cared about that character even though I felt like he didn’t want me to care and I thought that was interesting.

Goldie

The cruising bit was very sweet. And really moving. Do you want to talk about design?

Lawrence

Christopher Haig’s set was bold.

Goldie

It was and I think that was necessary. A naturalistic set would not have held the play correctly.

Lawrence

I agree.  I think having been to the earlier reading hurt me here, because I already had ideas of the set in my head, but I could get past that and really dig this set.

Sarah

I loved the set! It looked different from what I normally see and was really not-distracting, but served a lot of purposes. This show has a million settings, and the set allowed for that.

Goldie

To be honest, I didn’t like it when I saw pictures in promotional stuff, but when I saw the play in it, I liked it. It evoked piles of stuff in an attic. Also, like the history that they are contending with, the set loomed over the players (even the grandparents) at all times.

Lawrence

Yes, and I loved how actors could use it to create the scenes. I love when sets can do that.

Sarah

Props (Scott McMaster) were simple and appropriate. Evocative without being in the way.

Goldie

And I was really brought in by the presence of the Philly historical marker in the center. This play was so Philly in such a wonderful way. It was like a handmade gift for the city.

Lawrence

I wonder what it would be like in another city? I found the sound design from Elizabeth Atkinson really interesting. I liked its use of echoes, but I wanted more diversity in what we heard. I saw a preview, though, so they may have added more.

Goldie

I saw a preview, too. But I liked Atkinson’s sound design. Maybe because I love podcasts and it was very evocative of that.

Sarah

My only design critique would be the lighting from Alyssandra Docherty. It was good overall, but it underutilized the neutral set in my opinion.The lights didn’t help to define space as well as I would have liked. But that might have been a resources problem.

Goldie

I really like what she did with the lights– the way that they made ghosts out of the grandparents on this ghost colored set. And the burst of green and leaves gobo that came on at the beginning of the park scenes and then just disappeared did its job subtly. I love when lighting designers don’t rely on darkness.  

Lawrence

And don’t rely on pops or effects. The practicals were so nicely done and not distracting. I didn’t notice the lighting too much, which I thought meant it was doing exactly the right thing for this show. Also, I’m so excited for a new female lighting designer in town.

Goldie

Hooray! I thought Levonne Lindsay’s costumes were also solid. If you ever see R. Eric Thomas walking around the city, Carl was basically cosplaying him, which I found hilarious and delightful.

Lawrence

I loved Annie’s shark tooth necklace. It was such a weird element that made me think about her character and a costume design hasn’t done that for me in so long.

Goldie

Her costumes were great, she looked comfortable in them. The only one I didn’t love was the halftan. I think it gave Ryan Walter a challenge in having to compete with that costume. It was a challenge that he met but it was a little distracting. It was what the script called for, though. .

Lawrence

I wasn’t bothered by it, but I wanted more from Gisela’s costume, I felt like it didn’t give me anything about her character.

Goldie

I liked hers because of the way it interacted with the lights and set. She seemed like she’d just walked out of the wall.

Lawrence

Romandi was so good.

Goldie

I also liked Blankenship, the way he was wearing a tie alone at home to watch TV. Neatly pressed. That’s a specific kind of older person.

Lawrence

I think it says a lot about a person who dresses up for solitude.

Goldie

Yes! Good way to say that! So as a cohesive unit all of this stuff was well done. But I think what I love about all the elements most is that they felt like they were done with love.

Lawrence

Yeah, there was a lot of care with this production

Goldie

My least favorite kind of shows are those that are cold or indifferent. This one seemed to just want to hug everyone.

Goldie

I walked into the play feeling really shitty, because I had just been talking with a girlfriend about Stanford, and we were feeling really hopeless. And then I walked into this space that wasn’t for, about or in reaction straight white men.  And it was so, so soothing and restorative. So as a straight, cis person, I experienced this as extremely comforting and welcoming. What was lit like to watch it as a gay person?

Lawrence

I felt like it was a gay fantasy (but absolutely not in the sense that it’s not real or achievable or hasn’t happened) because it was exactly the kind of play that I wanted to see.  It wasn’t about people failing to find happiness and it could so easily have been. Not that anything, for any of them, was perfect, but it wasn’t failure or misery. There were lovely places that all of those characters could go. I loved that the storyline between Annie and Claudia was a possibility. I think that a lesser playwright would have succumbed to the very tempting option of putting them together or breaking them up and instead it wasn’t about that, it was about them really seeing each other and that was all we needed. I found that so moving and inspiring as a playwright as well as an audience member. We just never see a pre-relationship like that and it was so great.

Goldie

This feels like a new generation of LGBTQ play. I feel like most gay plays are about cruel parents or AIDS

Lawrence

And that’s great, but there’s more to the gay experience.

Goldie

I was really moved.

Lawrence

I don’t cry and I had like some mist going on.

Goldie

Oh I was all out crying. Snot and all.

Sarah

To me, the show felt a little less moving than the reading I saw. guess I felt like the stakes weren’t there.

Goldie

Oh that is the total opposite of what it was like at the performance I saw!

Sarah

Maybe there was some opening night acting going on. It felt very “here’s a joke!” ***pause*** Not all the time, but for parts of it.

Lawrence

Yeah, they might still be learning where the laughs are. There was a very small house at the preview I saw, I felt like they were just listening to each other.

Goldie

Me too, they were very with each other.

Sarah

I also found Annie’s character less interesting this time.

Goldie

Oh I liked Annie much MORE than in the reading.

Lawrence

I think because I went into it thinking of it as Chekhovian, I expected that there was going to be more talking than action and found action in that, so I found the stakes really exciting.

Sarah

I know that a lot of cuts were made, and it definitely needed it, but I guess I lost the sense of their friendship at some point.

Lawrence

Interesting, I felt their friendship had so much more depth. There was so much that had happened before the play that just existed without needing exposition. I thought that was really well done.

Sarah

Maybe it was just the performance I saw. Openings are hard. There’s so much beyond the play happening. It definitely wasn’t all off. Just the main relationship felt really distant right at the top. I wasn’t sure if they were best friends or just people who sort of work together.

Goldie

When he got up and took a wine class out of her cabinet, that felt like the information I needed. That was a really succinct way to make the relationship clear.

Sarah

Opening night, he dropped the wine glass and said “oh Jesus,” which was amazing.Honestly that relationship wasn’t the most important part of the show for me. I love the heart of this piece.

Lawrence

Oh! On my night Kristen had a coughing fit and drank all of Carl’s wine and then he got her more and then Brandi entered with a water bottle for her. It was terrifying and amazing.

Sarah

I love that seeing the same show on different nights can lead to such different opinions!

Lawrence

Yay live theater!

Goldie

I think that’s kind of what we were talking about before. These actors are both professional and generous. They are in the moment and ready for what’s happening, including taking care of each other.

Lawrence

It was a hug show. I love hug shows.

Sarah

How about Jarrod Markman’s direction?

Lawrence

I thought it was appropriately restrained, and that was really good. This play could so easily have gottenout of control, and it didn’t. It sat when it needed to sit.

Goldie

Yes. I couldn’t agree more.  I think it took a deft hand to keep this all in line, and Jarrod Markman did a fantastic job and did it invisibly, which is ideal.

Goldie

I think he knew just where and how much to use devices like the stylized movement, which was really well choreographed by Amy Smith from Headlong.

Lawrence

I really liked the movement and I usually don’t. I also loved the transitions.  So so good.  Dramaturgically relevant.  Made me so happy.

Goldie

What did you guys think of the story?

Sarah

I totally appreciate what Lawrence was saying about it being a show about a different part of the queer story. AIDS touches it, and family rejection touches it, but it was really a story about finding your community and your family and your truth in all of these complex ways. I also loved the idea of queering history and queering theatre. All of the characters were LGBTQ, ALL OF THEM! But that wasn’t their defining characteristic, which I really appreciated.

Goldie

Yeah, and I really love the way he worked in the AIDS quilt, Mary the Hat, the William Way Center. Very respectful of the history.

Lawrence

I loved how everyone made bad choices and I still really liked them. I definitely wanted to know more about Claudia’s character. She felt kind of shallow, but I wanted to know more, so that’s good. I cared a lot about her even not knowing that much.

Sarah

Me too. I await the sequel.

Lawrence

Yes sequel!!!

Goldie

It was a cool character. I like that it left me wondering what a relationship between them would be like.

Lawrence

Yes, that’s why the pre-relationship was so good.

Goldie

I see what you’re saying. It would have been such a cop out to end it with them getting together.

Lawrence

Exactly.

Sarah

I hate that we focus so many stories on the goal being romantic love. Romantic love is not the only kind of love, nor is it some sort of necessary life goal.

Lawrence

And it made me like Claudia more to see her recognize that she was into this person who wasn’t looking for a romantic thing, she was looking for a friend, and to be that for her.

Goldie

I loved the way Brandi played the crush.

Lawrence

Yes, the unspoken moments were so well done.

Goldie

Maybe it shouldn’t have worked as a device for letting Annie do a lot of exposition. But it did.

Lawrence

And when that shit doesn’t work onstage it’s so painful.

Goldie

It worked because Brandi was so active. You could see Claudia struggling to listen to her and not gaze at this crush.  

Lawrence

And you could see her thinking “want me” without demanding it.

Sarah

I think it was great because listening is something a good friend does, and Annie wasn’t getting enough of that, so the audience and Claudia became the friend.

Goldie

Kristen also really made Fatima real.

Lawrence

Yeah, she was such a good offstage character.

Sarah

So real. I feel like I knew exactly where they were in that break-up too. And you knew Fatima did the breaking up.

Sarah

And so much of that was just acting and the sound design elements in between scenes.

Goldie

I think that R. Eric Thomas was really thoughtful about being inclusive without resorting to tokenism. I appreciated that she was Fatima and not Becky. The play makes  a joke about being like a Benneton ad, but I found the production to be joyfully inclusive I also want to give points to this production for seeking out a Vietnamese American actor to do the Cahn Nguyen voice over

Sarah

Who was it?

Goldie

It was Lucas Nguyen. And he did a great job.

Sarah

In general, I think they did a great job being true to the script with casting.

Lawrence

I’m pretty sure that part was written for Kristen

Sarah

She’s so good, why isn’t she in everything?

Goldie

Amen. I think Carl Clemens-Hopkins was a much better fit for Curtis than James Ijames, who did it in the reading had been. James seemed uncomfortable in it

Lawrence

Carl was relaxed and James was anxious.
I knew Curtis was having marriage troubles without that even really stated. That was very impressive.

Sarah

Yes. That one line about the podcast being a distraction for him so he wouldn’t decorate the apartment was so telling.

Lawrence

Such good use of details.

Goldie

I think the moment where she makes him say that he’s not Olivia Pope is a perfect instance of Eric’s wit shining in a different context.

Sarah

That play was funny! But I did feel like it had too many specific pop culture references. Will it hold up? Some of them also threw me out in a weird way. I saw some people definitely not getting the references, but those were old white people… so I guess they’ve gotten every play ever basically, and they can miss this one. But I love so much in this play, I just don’t want it to only live for 5 years.

Lawrence

I thought it was interesting how the references were as multi-generational as everything else in the play

Goldie

Yes, that was another point of inclusivity.

Lawrence

Romandi brought in so many older references and the play poked fun at itself for how many obscure ones it had. It is dating itself, but there’s a way to dramaturg that so the characters let us into the world even if some of the references are lost.  And I would pay money to watch Brandi as Romandi do Steel Magnolias.

Sarah

I hope it gets more productions.

Goldie

Me, too. But there’s something very special about this production. It was a solid play, and a great experience.

Lawrence

This play was a good one.

Goldie

And it feels important. This is the kind of work I want to see so much more of. Inclusive, fearless, professional, loving, humble.

Lawrence

Generous and respectful of its story without being condescending to its audience.

Goldie

So inviting to the audience. And also these are the kind of stories I want to see.

Lawrence

Tell more of the untold.

Goldie

This makes me think of inclusivity as an idea versus “diversity.” It isn’t that it was a play with gay characters. What am I trying to say?

Lawrence

They got to be people.

Goldie

That’s it. And even though that was in no way my story. I felt very included.

Lawrence

It was my story and that was so special. I’ve noticed how I’ve stopped looking for me on stage and that makes me sad.

And to see me was really….. yeah

Goldie

I think it says something great about this production that it got both of us in different ways

Lawrence

It really does.

Goldie

This is the kind of show where…this is why you go to eight thousand crumby ones.

Lawrence

This show is why you go to all the bad ones. So you get to go to this one.